CLEARWATER, Fla.For those baseball fans agitated about whether the World Baseball Classic is a winner or a loser, I have some advice: Be open about the debate and not close-minded like George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees.
As for me, I've changed my mind from anti to pro.
I fully recognize that there has been little publicity or explanation about this new twist to our national pastime. Even some principal officials of the game seem to be confused about the workings of the event.
But here at the spring training site of the Philadelphia Phillies last weekend, the value of the tournament was in evidence.
The national team from Venezuela, a sound club, played the B team of the Phillies. There were about 2,000 Venezuelans in the stands. They waved flags, blew whistles, and cheered for good plays on both teams. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
"It was a moving experience," said Bill Giles, the chairman and partial owner of the Phillies. "I think this idea could prove to be very interesting."
Giles comes from a family of baseball traditionalists and admitted he was lukewarm about the classic at first. He said the event will spark more interest in the game in countries where there has been little experience with baseball. And, just as important, he believes it could develop into the signing of more quality players to Major League contracts.
I think he makes a good case.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I've known Bill Giles for 43 years and consider him my best friend. So measure that in my views.)
For those who are not current on countries already represented in the majors, here's the impressive list: Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea, Panama, Australia, and the Netherlands. And of course Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The list could grow in time.
Of course, leave it to the grumpy Steinbrenner to be a spoilsport about the classic. He's been ornery for weeks after stars Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Johnny Damon left Tampa to play in the event. Take a deep breath, George.